Alumni

The Beautiful Duet
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How Matt Cordner’s mastery of engineering and art created a film industry standard and earned him an Academy Award

Most awards in film celebrate a product a few years in the making. When Matt Cordner, B.S. CS ’97, won the Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 2013, however, the Academy unwittingly honored a product of over a decade’s worth of effort.

“Since it had been 13 years since I developed PSD, winning the Academy Award came as a total surprise,” Cordner said of his award for pose space deformation (PSD), a technique he, J.P. Lewis and Nickson Fong began developing in 1999.

“When you bend an arm in real life, the skin folds around it. Software, by default, doesn’t know how to do that,” Cordner said of the technique. “PSD allows artists to fix an animation instead of mathematical engineers.”

Cordner’s start in CG effects began at a USC Trustee Scholars lunch just days before graduation, when he met Steven Puri, the president of Centropolis FX, and eventually changed career courses to work at Puri’s company.

It was at Centropolis FX that Cordner began the development of PSD, which his own company initially ignored. Eventually SIGGRAPH, the annual computer graphics conference, accepted PSD, allowing other engineers and effects artists to perfect the technology, creating a slow burn of interest that would lead to his 2013 award.

Today, Cordner works at Blizzard Entertainment, where he designs and animates “anything that’s not a character but still needs animation.”

“It’s definitely artistic, but it’s much more technical,” Cordner said, who referred to the dichotomy of engineering and art as a “beautiful duet” in his Oscar speech. “You have to use both sides of your brain to get that final animation.”

Matt Cordner, J.P. Lewis, and Nickson Fong, Technical Achievement Award winners, arrive at the AMPAS Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at The Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California February 9, 2013. REUTERS/Patrick Fallon (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Matt Cordner, J.P. Lewis, and Nickson Fong, Technical Achievement Award winners, arrive at the AMPAS Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at The Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California February 9, 2013. REUTERS/Patrick Fallon (UNITED STATES – Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)